Category Archives: Musing

Forward….

At mass last night, Father Sheridan stated this is a good time to make resolutions for the coming year. [Father said he makes the same one every year, ‘to clean out his refrigerator’, yep, a good laugh for the congregation]  Well.  Maybe.  Liturgically we’ve already started our year. In some cultures the new year began in spring, which makes a lot of sense. I guess we can thank the Gregorian Calendar, and Julius Caesar, for straightening the way we pay attention to how our small ‘blue marble’ goes around our star, Sol.

I think if we could vote, I’d vote for new year in spring. First off, it would be warmer for all the parades. You would not have to wear your entire closet in order to go outside. I’d like that. Okay, I admit it. Cold is not my friend, especially these fifteen and twenty degree temps we are seeing even in NC. A temperature of at least 60? All right, today I’d take 50 degrees.

But here’s the thing, cold does not inspire me to run out and work at anything. I’d be happy to be warm, under a lovely blanket, next to a nice fire, with a brandy or maybe a whiskey, yeah, even a hot chocolate! This is hibernation time. This is bundle up time.

Still. Not a bad time to move forward. I’ve been reading a lot. I picked up Hallie Ephron’s book at the suggestion of a beta reader. And I’m glad I did. It’s not new stuff. I’ve seen it before. I belong to Sisters in Crime. A wonderful organization for the fan as well as for the writer. And through my local chapter of Murder We Write I have had the honor and privilege of knowing Chris Roerden. Actually, one of my stories is cited in this version.

Besides reading about writing a great mystery, I’ve been reading a number of mysteries, just to see how they go through the mystery.  As an aside, I use the North Carolina Digital Library and I use Book Bub to get books for the kindle. One that I recently read was interesting. The mystery was thought out, the settings were realistic, the dialogue was good when it worked. This was an independently published book, the author is Canadian and this matters. Why? Because while the initial setting is in Ottawa and the Canadian aspect of character development is good, [this was published in 2014] there were inconsistencies that took me out of the story. Additionally, the book needed serious editing. One whole chapter was repeated in the first book. The same phrase for emotion was used for three characters, and there were whole sections of the story that gave it length, but added nothing to advance the mystery, the thrill or the suspense. For something written in 2014 there was no use of a cell phone [do they not have them in Canada :)?]

You can learn from the good and the not so good. I already have comments from one beta reader and awaiting from the second. Yay, revision! Good times!

 

Fragile

It has been a different and traumatic new year than the one I envisioned in the most recent post. While it looked pretty ordinary it has turned into something extraordinary.

Tom’s neck trauma has changed our life. I am now proposing only one car, building ramps, engaging home help, buying new beds, and remodeling our bathroom. Some of this was already on my list, most definitely some was not.  Admittedly I am not the best person to be a caregiver; I am impatient. And while I will be Tom’s primary caregiver, I am also his other half, he is my better half.  The impatience is not a result of the speed of our times, this is me, just ask the girls. While I do understand pain, I don’t understand how you don’t just plow through it. Sigh. Yes, I know there are pains you can not plow through.

This makes me think about my writing, the fragility of  emotions,  values and wants of a character. Many of us of, ahem! a certain age do not understand letting feeling rule. For me it is about reason, order, making the best of a situation and always trying to be the best. It is not about what my flaws and failings are, god knows [small g, of course] that they are legion! Yep. I am pretty sure I know them all, and probably a few no one even had an inkling about.

But what about my character? Feelings are important. Yes. But sometimes I feel like I am in a stage drama when I read a story where the wants and needs of the character are insistently on display. Yes, I find it annoying. I get it, but still it is annoying.  A recent quote in the WSJ on Theater states that theater is the act of pretending. True, this article is more about the ‘theater’ of political discourse,  linguist, John McWhorter states, “Nobody is hurt in that immediate, lasting and intolerable way by some words that a person stands up and addresses…to an audience at a microphone.” 

Writing a novel about a character is also an act of pretending. So why do we allow our feelings and that of our characters to be so fragile. Feelings are not hurt by a punch in the stomach, the stomach is. Feelings are not impacted by a fall, nope, it is the bones or in Tom’s case the neck and the spinal cord. We humans are fragile. We can not be pounded, beaten, shot, fall without some damage and that increases as we get older. Yet our feelings probably should not be so fragile if we want to exist in this world, make this whole thing work, this civilization~ laws, government, discourse. We must allow our characters to be themselves, some may emote like a Sarah Bernhardt, and some may be stoic like a, hmmm, this is hard, who recently is stoic?

So, where am I going with this? Hmm. I think I want to be somewhere in-between, with a character that has both feelings and is willing to keep them in, not on display and not emoting.

I think in someways that is Emily Pouverain Delaqua in Becoming the Only. Raised by a grandmother because her mother died when she was three, she is content with being reasonable and rational until her grandmother suddenly dies and her father is arrested for the murder. She is able to keep her emotions in check because she is able to confide in a journal and an imaginary friend, Star Ann. And with those emotions in check she can concentrate on saving her inheritance and finding the real murderer.

Ah, but will it sell.

THANK YOU!

We are a day  out from the great and uniquely American holiday, Thanksgiving. We have traditionally gathered. These days it’s one daughter who does the family thing, being the place we all migrate for limited conversations~ because who can discuss politics or just about anything~ complain about the fact that Christmas decorations are in the stores and  truly just enjoy the small ones!

Thanksgiving originated as a harvest festival. It  has been celebrated nationally on and off since 1789, after Congress requested a proclamation by George Washington. Now it is the fourth Thursday of the month when we gather around a huge roasted bird with side dishes ranging from from dressing-or stuffing, if you prefer, cranberry sauce [jelled or full of whole cranberries] potatoes, gravy, sweet potatoes! candied please. Yep. a very unique, great, stressed-filled one of a kind holiday. My favorite has always been cranberries with candied sweet potatoes coming in a very, very close second.

But no. What I want to talk about is ‘giving thanks’. Do you give thanks? ‘Thank you’ when someone holds the door for you? Or  ‘thank you’ when you are handed change? Or thank you when you are waved through a four-way stop? I do. It’s not a reflex. I mean it.

But do I get, ‘you’re welcome’ back? Usually, no. I don’t. What I get is ‘no problem.’ What exactly does that mean? It wasn’t a problem for you to hold the door? It wasn’t a problem for you to hand me my change? Lordy, it was your job! Maybe the person says ‘no problem’ when waving me through a four way stop.

The proper phrase is you are welcome. The no problem response seems sort of lost in translation. A bit casual. An off the cuff response. An over a shoulder comment that is more perfunctory than real.  It is more like I have not inconvenienced the person I thanked.  Again, for the most part it’s their job! 

Okay, a bit more cranky than I should. Time for the grateful list. T

  • Tom, while his health is good, he is facing challenges. I’m grateful that during the time he worked he made sure we were financially secure.
  • Meghan, Greg and, of course, Emmeline.
  • Bayley, Dan and, of course Mia.
    • Who would not be grateful for their children, their children marrying well and for their grand children. Seriously?  I mean. Look at them.

 

 

 

What else?

I am grateful daily for the peace, grace and prayers that help me make it through my day. 

 

Conferences

Just saw the new schedule for the 2018 NYC Midwinter Conference and I am impressed. Instead of the NYC conference being more about marketing, it is distinguishing itself as very craft and publishing related for both writers and illustrators. The choices are hard….getting a real understanding of writing history from Laurie Halse Anderson to understanding pacing with Phoebe Yeh….I mean Wow!

Sometimes I wonder if I really do get anything out of these programs, but I have to believe my writing is better, much better than it would be without it. I have learned, I have improved and not only in my writing but in the way to set my story apart in the query and in the synopsis.

I am torn between taking a session on nonfiction or the importance of pacing…oooh, so many choices. As regional advisor and the host of a conference it is hard to get to, no more than that,  it is hard to concentrate on the actual information being delivered by the presenter.  So for me  the LA conference has always been more important to me the writer.  Now the NYC program is full of very craft heavy and experienced well spoken presenters. YAY!  Good news!

This is a departure for SCBWI and one that while appreciated, the element of being able to meet with multiple agents and editors and hear their spiel has been invaluable, but, there is a note that is also worthy of SCBWI “you are invited to submit a query to a maximum of two editors, agents, or art directors whose masterclass workshops you have attended. Please be sure to target your submissions carefully according to the guidelines given to you by the workshop leader. We encourage you to use at least one of your workshop choices for the rare hands-on opportunity to work with our master authors and illustrators.”  Nice, so that too may have a hand in what I will sign up for. 

I have two completed novels, two WIPs and one, maybe two nonfiction to propose. The question is what to go to. I will probably change my mind a hundred times between reading the schedule and actually attending the conference.  Thank heavens for the time to be able to sift through and figure it out.

Maybe the issue is do I be brave and go out on a limb? Or do I look for more savvy on writing?  I’ve discovered that it is not in getting into the right programs but in feeling you’ve got the right information to go forward. So that’s what I will attempt to do for February, 2018.  Sigh, a long way away!

Distracted

There is much out there to be concerned about. The recent track of Irma as the hurricane invaded Turks and Caicos, Puerto Rico, glanced past Cuba and made for the Florida Keys. At one point in time the trajectory was right up the middle of Florida with it’s sphere of rain, wind and havoc projected to cover the entire peninsula. Wow! We had all just witnessed Harvey who blew into Houston and decided to stay a while and dump on a low land that just happens to be important to our energy industry. Sigh!  And you have to say to yourself, wait! What? no one is talking about Jose who is sitting out there in the Atlantic. What about Jose?

Weather! No, it’s not the weather. I grew up in California. You knew you were in an earthquake when it hit. Up in Boston you knew you were in a major ice storm or blizzard–again–when it hit. Now you get 24/7 on the news channels. [Whose idea was it to give weather it’s own channel? So that we can constantly be alerted to all the natural disasters Mother Nature can dish out? Seriously?]  Like we can do anything about it. Well, yes, I concede. We can do something, we can be prepared. There would have been tremendous loss of life in Florida if there were no warnings and people just stayed.

I recently read Jacqueline Kelly’s The Curious World of Calpurnia Tate. Yes, the voice was extraordinary, the story a powerful one of accepting society as it is and yet being brave enough to know that there are changes needed. Calpurnia stays focused on the fact that she has a brain and wants to use it. And as her grandfather accepts her into his study, she finds support for her goals. Nicely Done.

Interestingly, the story also talks obliquely about the Galveston Flood of 1900. A cousin comes to stay because her Galveston house is destroyed. A veterinarian comes to town with a story of surviving the flood. And through it all you realize that all their information is weeks if not months old. And while people are shocked and horrified at what occurred, that buffer of time also lessens the personal anxiety and fears.

No buffer today. Journalists and reporters are out there, battered by the winds, lol, warning others to be careful. The weather is right in our homes, it’s on our social media as people check-in to say they are safe. It is fascinating and horrifying at the same time. And also, in retrospect, amusing, the loss of power does not seem to impact the WiFi and the posting continues.

It’s like there is this invisible tether attaching you to the TV. It is a massive distraction. It is mesmerizing. It is addicting. How can you not watch? And yet, there are still very importing things going on in your own life. But still. The anxiety of the reporting~’it’s coming this way, no, it’s going here, landfall will be at…the winds are…’.  You feel almost trapped by the ongoing coverage and what, dear god, if you miss something?

You feel like you’ve run a marathon when it is over. Time to regroup. Time to settle your mind. Get back to the tasks that are important. Time to focus.

Thank goodness I have a massive rewrite to concern me. After my critique sessions at the recent SCBWI Carolinas conference I was adrift, not really wanting to spend time. Upset at breaking my own rules about critiques, questioning now when I should have questioned then.

But life is a series of ‘do-overs’. So here I am. Getting my anxiety out and on ‘paper’. Moving on.

Write On!